Thursday, December 14, 2017
Public safety

Suspect named in death of 9-year-old Tampa girl

TEMPLE TERRACE — A suspect in the killing of 9-year-old Felecia Williams has been identified and is in custody, Temple Terrace police said Wednesday night.

Police Chief Ken Albano said Granville Ashanti Ritchie, 35, was being held in the Pinellas County Jail on an unrelated drug charge. Ritchie, who has a Riverview address, was arrested in St. Petersburg at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday by a U.S. marshal's task force.

Temple Terrace police did not explain their unusual move — naming Ritchie as a suspect without charging him criminally in the girl's death or explaining his possible connection to the case or the family. They continued not to divulge how Felecia was killed, and what, if any, relationship Ritchie had with the woman last seen with the girl. Albano declined to answer any questions he described as "investigative in nature."

He used a news conference Wednesday to appeal to the public for more information while Ritchie is in custody.

"It's the totality of the information that we've gathered so far that leads us to believe that this is the suspect in the murder of Felecia Nicole Williams," said Albano, joined by the girl's tearful mother, Felecia Demerson. "To go into anymore detail than that would potentially compromise my investigation. Too much work has gone into this. Too much pain has been suffered by the family."

While police have released little information, it appears they have zeroed in on Ritchie from the beginning. A man who lives at the address police list for Ritchie said officers have visited there multiple times looking for him, starting Saturday.

Felecia, a third-grader, was last seen alive late Friday afternoon. She was picked up about 4 p.m. from her home at 2009 E Ida St. in Tampa by Eboni A. Wiley, a family friend.

Wiley told police that she took Felecia to an apartment in Temple Terrace and that the girl disappeared while Wiley was taking a shower, authorities said. A search for the girl ensued.

On Saturday afternoon, a fisherman found Felecia's body, naked and floating near rocks and mangroves, north of the Courtney Campbell Causeway in Clearwater. Police have not released her autopsy results other than to say it found she was the victim of a homicide.

Wiley was arrested late Saturday, accused of making false statements to authorities during the investigation. Police said the information she gave led them not to treat the case with the urgency it deserved, but have not disclosed what was false about her statements. She was later released on bail.

Investigators still want more information to help solidify their case, Albano said.

"Right now, again, he's off the street. The big thing for us is that allows me to have the window that I need to tell you and everybody in the community, if you have information, if you have been scared to share that with us, now is the time," he said. "I cannot emphasize that enough. Now is the time. Help us bring the murderer of this little girl to justice."

Ritchie's arrest history dates to 2007 and includes a domestic violence case in 2012 that was dropped, state records show. The native of Jamaica was charged with sexual assault, aggravated assault and domestic battery in 2013.

The Hillsborough state attorney filed the charges against Ritchie in 2013, said Mark Cox, a spokesman for the office. But the office couldn't move forward because when the victim came in for a deposition, she said she had no recollection of what happened.

"We couldn't ethically go forward," Cox said.

A few weeks later, in June 2013, Ritchie's wife, Todra Ritchie, filed an injunction for protection against domestic violence against him. They married in 2006, state records show.

Ritchie was also arrested in February and charged with possession of a controlled substance, the drug Ecstasy. According to the February arrest record, he identified himself as a cellphone technician.

Before Ritchie was arrested in St. Petersburg Wednesday, police initially sought him at his listed address in Riverview at 6414 Hollydale Place.

Instead they found Marcus Charles, 38, who lives with a cousin at Ritchie's apartment. Charles said he and his cousin moved into the apartment seven months ago, renting from Ritchie.

Charles said plainclothes detectives came to the apartment on Saturday and Sunday, and eight U.S. marshals, brandishing guns and shields, arrived on Monday.

Charles said his cousin knows Ritchie and arranged the living situation. The cousin declined to comment.

Charles said he knew Ritchie's wife well, but had only met Ritchie once at a family function about five years ago. He was a "normal-looking guy" who maintained a low profile around the neighborhood, Charles said.

During Wednesday's press conference, Felecia's mother also made a plea for information.

"If anyone has information about my daughter's killer, can you please come forward?" Demerson said.

The family's attorney, Ariel O. Garcia, declined to say whether the family knows Ritchie. He said Demerson was happy to know a suspect was arrested, but "this is ongoing," he said.

On Monday, Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay offered a reward of up to $3,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible. So far, that offer has yielded two tips, according to Temple Terrace city spokesman Michael Dunn. The FBI added a $10,000 reward Wednesday.

As he closed his news conference Wednesday, Albano made one more appeal to the public's sense of justice.

"I can't stress it enough," he said. "A 9-year-old girl was murdered. No one in our community — no one — should tolerate that."

Times staff writers Dan Sullivan, Jamal Thalji, Julie Kliegman and Weston Phippen, and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

 
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